Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tan Leather Sandals

Today's a big picture heavy post about the making of these Tan Leather Sandals. As you may know I signed up to a 3 month membership to ShoeMakingCoursesOnline.com for Christmas and after buying all my materials I've slowly been working my way through endless hours of content learning how to make a ton of different types of shoes. I have to admit I was a bit puzzled when I saw Sveta had only offered an asymmetric unisex sandal course on her website. The style of them is not for me but I downloaded the classes anyhow just for the learning. However I poked around a bit more and found she had a stand alone class you can buy just to make the patterns for T Strap Sandals. They were the exact shape that I wanted to make so I jumped in and bought it immediately. I went back a day later and found that my membership had expired (it's been 3 months already?!) and then realised I'd only downloaded the first couple of lessons on the asymmetric sandal course so I had no idea how to last my sandal once I made the pattern. I figured I'd watched enough content and absorbed enough of her wisdom to give it a good try so I forged ahead.

I drew my pattern onto my last with a little bit of help from a pair of shoes I have that look a bit like this. Then I pulled off the masking tape and made my pattern following her instructions. I ended up with the pattern pieces you see on the right which I tested out in paper and cardboard to make sure the fit was good. This time around I got to try the pattern on my last and my foot which was reassuring as generally with shoes you don't know what the fit's like until you've finished and put it on your foot.

Once I was sure about the pattern and the placement of the upper on the midsole I cut out my leather. I bought this leather from a fabric destash market a couple of weeks ago. It's really thick, like about 4mm thick, and was difficult to cut and work with but I loved the colour and how sturdy the shoes would be once made so I forged on. It had quite a few imperfections which I couldn't entirely cut around but this was why I was using it in the first place, if the sandals didn't work out I wouldn't have wasted really good leather making these. 

Because I wasn't sure how to last these I puzzled over the order of construction and finishing for a while. As you may be able to tell those midsoles in leather above are enormous. I originally cut them out with a 2cm allowance around all sides to fold the leather around my texon board I use for midsoles. However once I started working with the leather I knew it was going to be impossible to get this thick leather to bend let alone fold around a texon board neatly. So after much thought I decided to leave out the texon board altogether and just have this leather midsole glued straight onto the leather soling which is already extremely stiff. I hoped this would be sturdy enough to feel comfortable and supportive.

Then I faced the conundrum of how to last these sandals. Because I wasn't using a midsole with a covering like I did in my ballet flats I couldn't just hammer nails into the last to shape the leather. That would put holes through my midsoles which would be on show for the life of the shoes. No thanks. But I knew this leather was not going to be wrangled into place just with glue and pliers so I had to work out a solution. I ended up sticking masking tape to the soles and drawing out where the straps would sit and the upper toe part would sit. I nailed the straps onto the last just as they were but I soaked the upper toe part in water so that I could stretch and form it over the last and nail it into the right place so that when it came time to glue them the leather would "remember" where it was meant to go. I was a bit worried abut submerging the leather in water in case this caused any lasting damage to it? Would they dry out and crack in the future? Would the underside be affected and not look how it should because they'd been soaked? The choice was to wet and form them or not make the sandals at all because there was no other way I could think to do it. 

The result was much better than I expected! When I lasted my ballet flats and eased two concave curves into each other I had ripples or folds of leather I had to wrangle into place, nail and glue down and then skive and sand back to get it flat. When I lasted this leather onto the midsole just with glue and pliers it automatically laid flat as you see here - no folds whatsoever. This was great because it meant I had less skiving and sanding to get that layer of leather flat against the midsole once everything dried. Hurrah!

The last step was to glue the soles on and they were done!

So let's talk about how they fit and feel. Firstly they're super comfortable. The width around my joints is perfect and doesn't squish my feet like all other shoes do so that's already a great win. However we need to talk about sandals and lasts. I bought lasts specifically for making flat, closed shoes. They're perfect for making ballet flats, oxfords and ankle boots but they're not designed to make sandals on them. You can make sandals on them but the sandals aren't going to be perfect right from the get-go. A sandal last is wider around the toes so that you're feet lay flat on the midsole and are not being held in by the sides of shoes. The sandal last is also flatter at the toe end of the last to mimic how thick your toes are. I knew all this before I started and I'm ok living with imperfect sandals but I'll point a few things out to you in the below photos so you understand. The biggest reason I got away with this was because my toes are almost completely enclosed so they're being held in place as I walk. However if you look closely you'll see that the open toe part is sitting much higher up than my toes because it's been formed to mimic the shape of a ballet flat toe not a sandal toe. This is much more noticeable in real life than in pictures but I knew it was going to be this way so at least I was expecting it. I believe that sandal lasts are also slightly longer to accommodate the length of your foot as it rests on an open midsole. As you can see my feet literally just fit onto the midsole and could probably do with a tiny bit more length seeing as my feet move very freely in this type of shoe. Again not complaining, I knew this would be the case but it's interesting to notice the difference a last can make on the final pair of shoes.

I'll most likely buy myself a pair of sandal lasts for next spring/summer seeing as it's Australia and I wear open toed shoes for a lot of the year. But for now I'm ok with the limitations of these lasts. These pictures were taken a day after wearing them for the first time so this is 9 hours into their wearing life. As you can see in the photo on the left they're starting to curve up at the sides of the outer foot - it's much more noticeable on my right foot than my left. I'm sure this is because I let the texon board go and it's just two layers of leather glued together. Very stiff and strong leather but leather all the same. I think my next pair of sandals are going to need texon board and maybe even a shank to keep their shape properly for the life of the shoe. I don't just want to make shoes anymore. I want to make shoes that last me years. Part of my shoemaking journey will be about monitoring the wear and tear on them and feeding that back into the making process to ensure I'm focussed on longevity not just how pretty they look.

All in all I'm absolutely stoked with them. I'm amazed every time I look down at my feet and think that I made them with my own hands. The hand stitching looks great, I love the buckle, I love the width of straps I chose and I think the proportions work pretty well for my feet. The proportions aren't perfect but for my first sandal they're far and above what I expected of myself and I can't even begin to tell you how good that feeling is. It's like the beginning of sewing again. I wear them out of the house and wonder if anyone is going to look at them or check that I made them because they look handmade or something. It's a weird feeling.

So what next? I have some black leather calling my name which I was going to turn into another pair of ballet flats. However on passing through Myer yesterday these shoes below caught my eye and now I'm obsessed and can think of no other shoes. I have leather hole punches and an entire course on making oxfords. Stay tuned.

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